« AnteriorContinuar »
infamy the perjured dishonesty of numbers who signed the established creed, while, without a blush, they could preach the most opposite errors. II. Previous to the Reformation, there were many efforts at reform, though too feeble to be effectual. And even where reform was utterly hopeless, there was yet a continual protest against the dominant corruptions of Popery. Besides the mystics, who made several attempts to undermine the reigning superstition, eminent men, thinly scattered like lights through the darkness which they vainly endeavoured to dissipate, protested all along against the tyrannic usurpations of Rome, and without being the adherents of a sect, appealed to the authority of revelation and reason./| The two witnesses prophesying / in sackcloth, as represented in the Apocalypse, pre-f sented a wonderfully exact picture of the condition 1 of the dark ages, where the martyrs of the truth, f few in number, but sufficient to keep up a perpetual i testimony, denounced at best to a careless, and often f to an unfriendly world, the anti-christian authority of the Man of Sin, and proclaimed, in some degree, I the freedom of truth and of conscience. The Romanist writers have attempted to identify these early Protestants with various heretics, such as the Arians and Manicheans; but it is evident that this old departure of many of them from the Church of Rome, proceeded from their acquaintance with the Scriptures, partial as it often was, and that whatever
errors they might have, were but the remaining corruptions of Popery, which they had not light enough to discern and cast away. Perhaps it may not be sufficiently noticed by Protestant writers in general, that the sweeping persecution of the Romish Church, which endeavoured at once to crush whatever opposed its authority, drove occasionally Arian and Manichean heretics to the same retreats, along with the men whose faith was founded upon the Scriptures alone—so that very various characters, though dissimilar and hostile to each other, might often seek the same shelter during the violence of the storm. But these heretics, if there were any such mingled with the orthodox, (for the accusations of the Papists possess little authority) must have been insignificant both in number and influence, since their opinions are scarcely to be distinctly traced in the accounts which have been transmitted to us by the Papists themselves. The supposition, however, of these heresies lying dormant amongst some who were persecuted by the Papists during the dark ages, would account for their sudden though partial revival at the Reformation. The spread of the reformed doctrines amongst the Albigenses so early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, gave an early promise of what increasing knowledge would be able to effect, when new facilities for diffusing information were to be afforded; and it is delightful to observe, that the early but transitory reform in the south of France was as much distinguished by the purity of its morals as by the truth of its doctrines. The zeal and disinterested labours of the primitive Christians seemed to revive with their faith. The Albigenses, wherever they went, won converts by their holy life, as well as by their invincible arguments. But the time was not yet come when the tenth part of Babylon was to fall; they had not the aid of printing to diffuse their opinions over the world; and the Inquisition drowned the voice of these living witnesses in their blood. III. Before the appearance of Luther, the Church of Rome appeared stronger than ever; it had silenced every voice that was raised against it; the witnesses for the truth were slain. Knowledge was increasing, but, bribed by the patronage of Popery, it was no longer favourable to religious truth. When the dispute with Luther began about indulgences, all was serene in the Papal world, except that dark speck on the horizon, which suddenly overspread the heavens. There is a striking contrast between the slow and gradual progress of the great reformer's own mind in the discovery of each succeeding truth, and the rapidity with which each truth, as soon as it was discovered and proclaimed, was immediately believed and transmitted throughout the Christian and learned world. Luther had but to speak, and conviction followed. Interest and ignorance were indeed too hard in most cases for the reformer, but wherever unprejudiced learning sat as his judge, the decision was instantaneous in his favour. The understandings of men were ripe to receive the truth, and had not the kings of the earth agreed to lend their power to support the Beast, the idols of Popery, like the idols of Paganism, would have been thrown long ere now to the moles and to the bats. It is evident that Luther had no conception how far he was going when he first set out. Every year he threw away more of the absurdities of Popery; and if, at the end of each year, a certain number of his disciples had refused to proceed farther, and had modelled themselves into a religious society, according to the mind of the reformer, at the moment they parted from him, we should have had a number of additional sects to augment the list of heresies which Popery triumphs so much in displaying. Something of this kind has actually happened, if not with regard to their disciples, yet in the case of the reformers themselves. Luther went to a certain extent, Calvin still farther, and some others of the reformed considerably beyond both. Thus we have the first source of disputes amongst the reformed in the different distances which they respectively judged it expedient to remove from Rome. In this point of view, the reformed may be eonsidered as falling under three classes. The first look back to the time of Constantine as the golden age of Christianity, and unite, in a certain subordinate authority to the Scriptures, the writings of the earlier Fathers. The second take the Bible alone for their guide, but join the polity and temper of the Jewish republic to the milder genius of Christianity. The third trust they have erected the genuine model of a Christian church, simply upon the hints and notices containéd in the New Testament, though with respect to these notices, they are continually at variance among themselves.
% IV. The number of disputes was again considerably increased by the use of a technical theology. There can be no doubt as to the utility of system for the attainment of sound and stable knowledge: but there are two systematic methods, the one natural, and the other artificial; the one submits itself to the nature of things, the other bends the nature of things to its own immediate utility and purposes. It is the merit, as well as the defect of artificial systems, that they accommodate themselves to the weakness of our faculties, if not always to the amplitude of truth. They assist our memory, and present to us a brief and compendious arrangement, though we must ever have recourse to the natural method, as that alone which corresponds to the reality of things. The natural method of studying the Bible is contained in the Scriptures themselves; every truth is there represented in its just order and due prominence; but an artificial